“Sleep Need & Sleep Age™: Find Out Yours – Dan Gartenberg, Ph.D. #583.” 

Human Upgrade (formerly Bulletproof Radio) with Dave Asprey


Dan Gartenberg, Ph.D., wants you to sleep better, so he’s conducted research and developed technology based on the science of sound, light, temperature, and relaxation to help you do just that. “By more accurately measuring sleep, based on your sleep stage, there are ways of enhancing your deep sleep in real time while you’re sleeping through sound or temperature stimulation,” he says.

Dan, aka Dr. Snooze, is the co-founder and CEO of SleepSpace and also an adjunct assistant professor at Penn State University. With a background in cognitive psychology and expertise in sleep, A.I., and preventive health, he has spent most of his career focused on improving sleep health.

In this episode of Bulletproof Radio, you’ll learn:

why “sleep need” includes both quantity and quality;
how you can discover your “sleep age™;”
what you can do to get more out of your sleep; and
which sleep hacks really work.

Key takeaways

On Bulletproof Radio, host Dave Asprey talks to Dr. Dan Gartenberg, co-founder and CEO of SleepSpace, about sleep technology and the benefits of quality sleep. Gartenberg is an expert in sleep, cognitive psychology, AI and preventive health. He has developed sleep technology that utilizes sound, light, temperature, and relaxation to improve sleep. Asprey recommends SleepSpace in his book Game Changers and as a hack for better sleep when staying in hotels. Gartenberg explains the importance of quality sleep, the different stages of sleep, and the benefits of using sleep technology to improve sleep. SleepSpace is an app that uses sound to improve sleep quality and is based on Gartenberg's research on sleep technology.

Hear Dave Asprey Talk About SleepSpace

Full Transcript

Dave: You’re listening to Bulletproof Radio with Dave Asprey. Today’s cool fact of the day is
that I just got off 10 hours of flying, and well, if you can’t hear it, my voice is a little dry.
But I’m going to do this episode anyway because it is going to be awesome, and it’s one
I’ve been wanting to do for quite a while to share something new with you guys. But
that’s not really the cool fact of the day, I’m just explaining why I sound a little different.
The real cool fact of the day is that only 21% of people in the U.S. get the recommended
seven to eight hours of sleep each night, not that you really need to get that much sleep
necessarily. But in contrast, people in France sleep an average of 8.83 hours per day,
which is the longest country for sleep in the developed world.
Dave: Now, there are studies that show if you sleep more than eight hours a night, you’re
more likely to die from all causes of mortality. So, France, come on guys. Sleep a little bit
less, maybe lay off the wine a little bit, and you’ll be okay. However, it turns out some
people can survive on much less. About one to three percent of the population are short
sleepers who need less than six hours a night. In the animal kingdom, a brown bat needs
almost 20 hours a day, and a giraffe, which is obviously one of my spirit animals, only
needs 1.9 hours of sleep a day. And this stuff came from Michael Breus, the guy who
wrote The Power of When, and is also a former guest on Bulletproof Radio.
Dave: But it’s pretty neat to just look at the diversity of sleep that’s going out there, and
today’s episode, as you might’ve guessed, has something to do with giraffes. Okay,
maybe not. It has something to do with sleep because the guy who’s coming on today
wants you to sleep better, and he’s done insane amounts of research and even
developed technology based on sound, light, temperature, and relaxation to help you
do just that. He’s known as Dr. Snooze, although his actual name is Dan Gartenberg.
He’s the co-founder and CEO of Sonic Sleep, and an Adjunct Assistant Professor at Penn
State University, with a PhD in cognitive psychology and an expertise in sleep, A.I. and
preventative health. And I’ve known Dan for several years; he’s been granted multiple
patents and developed a whole bunch of sleep tech, and you might’ve read about him in
national magazines or seen him on the Today Show. And today, we’re going to talk
about Sonic Sleep and the technology behind getting better sleep. If you read Game
Changers, you noticed that I mentioned Sonic Sleep as one of the sleep hacks that I
recommend. Dan, welcome to the show.
Dan: Dave, great to be here.
Dave: Now, when I said that I wrote about Sonic Sleep in Game Changers, your eyes rolled. Am
I remembering right, that I put it in my manuscript but it didn’t make it all the way
through my final edits? Did something happen there?
Dan: All is forgiven, no worries.
Dave: Man, all right.
Dan: We’re getting into it now.
Disclaimer: Bulletproof Radio transcripts are prepared by a transcription service. Refer to full audio for exact wording.
Dave: In Game Changers, the book, that’s a concentration of all of the many different
podcasts. I wrote about the importance of sleep because so many guests who have been
on the show who aren’t sleep experts said it mattered a lot. And to start, here’s my
latest sleep hacks you don’t know about. When you’re in a hotel, you can run Sonic
Sleep, and it gets you more, basically more REM sleep or more deep sleep, and it blocks
out bad sounds. And full disclosure, I invested in Sonic Sleep a while ago, and so I’ve
been following this thing. All right, when’s the time to share this? And you’re waiting for
the new app. So, we’re going to talk a little bit about the app, but this is just more about
the sleep stuff that I haven’t talked about before on Bulletproof Radio. We all know
maybe if it’s darker that’s going to be better, stuff like that, but we’re going to go a little
bit deeper. So, Dan, I’m just stoked you finally had the time to come on as a busy startup
Dan: I’m so excited to do this.
Dave: All right. I wrote a post, oh geez, eight years ago, about this thing called the Zeo, and the
Zeo was the first EEG sleep monitor. It was this dumb-looking headband, and Ben, the
guy who started it, is still a friend. And I’d wear this thing, and Lana, my wife, would just
roll her eyes and be like, “Oh my God, you’re doing it again.” And I got sleep data that
led me to write the hacks about raw honey or brain octane or collagen before sleep, and
taping over LEDs that are now very common, like every sleep hack talks about that stuff.
But I was measuring this way back in the day, and I said, “Here’s how you change your
sleep score.” Because everyone says, “Oh yeah, if you sleep eight hours, you get more
Dave: I’m like, I didn’t want to sleep eight hours. I only had six hours. I just wanted four hours
of deep sleep and two hours of REM sleep, not that I’ve ever gotten that good. So, was I
right or was I wrong in terms of looking at efficiency versus quantity? And you’re the
pro, and tell me when I’m wrong. I want to hear it.
Dan: So, I mean, I think at the end of the day it’s quantity and quality.
Dave: So, you’re telling me I’m wrong, Dan?
Dan: No, I think you’re right, and it’s complicated.
Dave: There you go. That’s the real answer.
Dan: I mean, I actually was partly inspired by the z score, they called it the ZQ score, way back
eight years ago. I think your thing, if I remember correctly, was the Zeo Force Multiplier.
Dave: Yeah.
Dan: Kind of a cool name. For actually changing that value that you get when you wake up for
how well you slept based on the sleep that you actually need.
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Dave: For the sleep that you just had. If I only had five hours, tell me I did a good job or a bad
job. I know I should’ve had more, but that’s my life sometimes.
Dan: Yeah. So, I mean, quantity is a big part, but as you’ve talked about before, quality is such
an important thing. And one thing that makes this question really complicated is that
while the National Academy of Sleep Medicine says that people need at least seven
hours on a regular basis, and as much as nineDave: If they’re sick. I’m sorry, I just had to say that.
Dan: No, that’s exactly what I’m saying. I’m going there.
Dave: Oh sorry, I stole your thunder.
Dan: If you’re sick, I mean, you need more sleep. If you’re going through a lot of personal
Dave: Yeah.
Dan: This isn’t just a sleep need based on an individual, this is actually intraindividual. And I
actually deal with this sometimes when I’m really having a stressful day at work. I know
that maybe I need to get a little extra sleep that night. And that also being said, if I can
align my circadian rhythm, and I think you’ve really delved deeply into this, you can get
better quality of sleep so that you can get by on less. And there’s many other ways to try
to, you know, hack your sleep quality to actually be able to get by on less sleep.
Dave: All right, so if it’s possible to get by on less sleep, tell me what you think. Two nights ago,
thank you for huge amounts of wind that screwed up my flight, so it took hours longer
than planned. I only slept three and a half hours. That’s considered a crap night’s sleep,
but according to my Oura Ring, I got exactly one hour of REM sleep and 42 minutes of
deep sleep in three and a half hours. How’d I do?
Dan: I mean, so that would be a healthy amount of sleep. I mean, that’s more deep sleep for
your age group than if you had slept the whole night. So, this is the thing.
Dave: See? See? That’s what I’m talking about, right?
Dan: But so there’s the Dave Asprey sleep need, and then there’s the general population
sleep need. And you know, not everyone is doing all the things that you’re doing to
optimize, so I’m just trying to speak to multiple. And this is why sleep is so complicated,
because it’s a very personalized thing. And I think why a lot of these companies like Zeo,
Hello I.S., various companies in the sleep hardware space have failed is because the
science of sleep is … it’s hard to give generic feedback because for example, if you are
someone with insomnia, I might give almost the exact opposite feedback as someone
that’s just trying to optimize this like you’re trying to do.
Dave: Oh, yeah.
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Dan: And I think finally we’re at a place with the technology where these hardware
companies, I.E. Apple, Fitbit, are finally opening up their technology to third party
developers that is enabling people like me and my research lab at Penn State to do the
hard science that’s involved to actually delivering people these personalized sleep
improvement solutions.
Dave: All right, Dan. I’ve got to tell you this. You may actually save more human lives than
almost anyone else alive, and here’s my math. Okay, if your tech, and there’s a bunch of
other sleep researchers working on this similar problem and from all sorts of different
angles. If you were to take the however many billion people there are, what, about six,
seven billion floating around? Something like that? So, let’s just save seven billion
people two hours of sleep at night so that they wake up, they have less health problems
than they do with their crappy sleep now, and we all get two hours of more serving our
communities, being parents, reading, playing Xbox, it doesn’t matter. Whatever brings
you joy, as long as you’re getting that quality sleep. If you look at two hours times six
billion people, you know how many human lifetimes that is? I’m serious.
Dan: Trust me, this is what has inspired me in this for 10 years, that very thought process.
Dave: It’s like a Nobel Prize. I mean, seriously, it’s that important.
Dan: Yeah.
Dave: Okay.
Dan: And I think the Nobel Prize a year or two ago was for some research on circadian
Dave: Absolutely was, yeah. All right, well maybe when you just realize okay, here’s the
personalized algorithms required basic monitoring. Do these 10 things, and you’ll get
more deep sleep than most people get in a night in three and a half hours. By the way,
that probably wasn’t enough time for my glymphatic system to wash my brain toxins,
and if I did that every night, I would probably get Alzheimer’s disease or something bad
would happen over time. So, unquestionably, that was a bad practice. It’s just, I only had
three and a half hours. That was my life that day, but you know I made the most of it,
and that’s the real perspective here.
Dan: Yeah, might as well get the most out of the sleep you’re getting, right?
Dave: Yeah.
Dan: And this question of, you just brought up Alzheimer’s, this is actually one of the big
focuses that we’re taking with this research because there’s more and more evidence.
Well, sleep is related to basically every chronic health illness, but especially cancer,
diabetes, hypertension, stroke. But there’s especially recent evidence relating it to
Alzheimer’s disease, and slow wave sleep in particular having to do with cleaning out
beta amyloid plaques, basically, is the simple way of putting it. And so that’s kind of the
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focus of my research, is on regenerative slow wave sleep or deep sleep, and how that
relates to both cognitive functioning. And recently an angle that we’re taking, some of
the grants that we have with the National Institute of Aging is to actually use sleep as a
way to mitigate conversion to Alzheimer’s disease, which is expected to triple in the
next 20 years. So …
Dave: And my new book on anti-aging that isn’t out yet, but for all of you listening, I don’t
know if I’ve talked about it before. I am in the late stages, I just finished the first draft of
a book that’s been in my head for at least five years, and this is the stuff I’m actually
doing to live to at least 180 or die trying. And it looks like Alzheimer’s is one of the big
four things that’s probably going to take you out unless you do something about it. And
it comes from food, it comes environment, it comes from toxins, and it comes from
sleep, which is why I’ve had a variety of sleep experts on for a long time and why I
decided I wanted to get behind Dan’s work, because it’s pretty heavy duty stuff.
Dave: Now, tell me about sleep age™, since we just hit on Alzheimer’s, which is considered a
disease of aging instead of a disease of inflammation. And sleep age, do you know your
sleep age? What is that?
Dan: So, this is something that we’ve tried to distill. The cool thing that inspired me about the
ZQ score is that it was a value that represented what you did during the day or over the
night that you could latch onto to make sense of how you slept. Then again, what does
it actually mean when I have a ZQ score of 90? You got into what that means a little bit,
but it’s pretty opaque.
Dave: Just to be really clear, Zeo, unless you’re a super fan and you buy one on eBay, Zeo went
out of business because they were too early. So, we’re talking about the first major
sleep tech out here that used EEG for you, but you can do similar types of things with an
Oura Ring, and you can even use the algorithms that you’ve got. Dan, you’re actually
taking data from the Oura ring and then applying additional sleep research to that.
Dan: That’s exactly right. We’re trying to …
Dave: Keep going. I just realized if someone’s listening trying to buy a Zeo right now, they’d be
pissed. So, don’t worry about buying a Zeo. You’re going to want an Oura Ring if you like
what we’re talking about here. But continue on your path.
Dan: Yeah, I mean just the headset form factor is one of those things that it sometimes does
more harm than good, I think, for most people, andDave: Yeah. If you like the other things you do in bed, I can tell you there’s nothing sexier than
a big old head set with a couple wires coming off it. Maybe if you’re into borg sex or
something, butDan: Yeah. The sleep partner might not be too happy about that. Borg sex, that’s hilarious.
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Dave: Good thing my wife likes Star Trek. But Philips has a dream headset, so there are EEG
headsets you can get now. I’ve got one of those. They’re just bigger and just they don’t
match your Victoria’s Secret outfit. So, in my mind, it’s got to be sort of low stress and
it’s got to provide really clean data.
Dan: Exactly, and I actually published a paper personally in Personal and Ubiquitous
Computing in grad school all about, how do we get this data noninvasively? And I love
the ring, the Oura Ring is a great form factor and the battery is great. We also develop
our algorithm on Apple Watch.
Dave: Oh, cool.
Dan: And we’ve shown that the sensor of that is, the sensors are basically just as accurate
between Oura and the Apple Watch.
Dave: Is it actually Sonic Sleep itself, or is it just some other way of working with what you’re
Dan: No, yeah. So, Sonic Sleep, we’re about to … we have our app right now on IOS and
Android, and in about a month we’re rolling it out on Apple Watch.
Dave: Oh, beautiful.
Dan: And then we’re trying to … yeah. And then we’re trying to get all the other wearables.
My whole thing is, I like a lot of the wearables, and we’re just trying to integrate with
the best ones.
Dave: And the idea there is you can have university grade, super detailed sleep analysis that
goes along with the wellness score and the recovery score, and all the other good stuff
that comes with each of those different devices. And the future that I predicted actually
in a blue book that I wrote for investors about 10 years ago. I’m like, “Look, there will be
a marketplace for ideas. And if you like Dan Gartenberg’s sleep professor stuff and you
want him to look at your data and tell you what to do, then okay, great. And if you like
Dave Asprey’s biohacker stuff and you want me to look at your data and tell you what to
do, great.” And it just becomes a marketplace of ideas and you’re like, “Maybe I’ll try
both and see which ones work better.” And, “Gee, Dan kicked Dave’s ass because he’s
actually a professor of sleep and Dave’s a hacker.”
Dave: Okay, that’s all good, but this needs to happen, and you’re one of the current examples
of this really happening instead of kind of the first wave of this that was maybe too
early, they came out at Quantified Self a while back.
Dan: Yeah, and I remember back in 2011 I think it was, in one of those first Quantified Self
conferences, that we were talking aboutDave: I have the poster from that hanging downstairs.
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Dan: Yeah, I still have that poster, too. It’s the blue one with the little circle. It’s a cool poster,
Dave: Yeah, totally.
Dan: That was a great conference, and I think you were talking about HRV even back then.
Dave: Yeah, and in fact, I think I put HRV in the sphere of biohacking. Before then, it was just a
weird meditation thing or a hospital grade thing.
Dan: And you know, we all thought then that these new devices were going to change
healthcare. At that conference, I remember I particular, it felt very exciting.
Dave: Yeah.
Dan: And thatDave: We were right, we were all just too eager in terms of the timeline.
Dan: Yeah. I guess we were a little presumptuous and maybe a little naïve, but I think now is
actually finally the time.
Dave: Yeah.
Dan: But you know, we kind of went on a circuitous route there.
Dave: To sleep age™, right?
Dan: But back to sleep age, we’ve kind of conceptualized the ZQ score as an age that maps
onto what, for example, a 20-year-old would be getting. So, for example, deep sleep is
something that generally decreases with age. So, a 20-year-old usually spends about
20% of the night in deep sleep, and then if you look at the population stats, by the time
you’re 80 it goes down to 7.5%. So, we measure various aspects of sleep quality, map it
onto the population statistics, and actually tell you where you’re lining up compared to
other people in the United States.
Dave: And to the point now, in my mid 40s, if I don’t get at least an hour and a half of deep
and an hour and a half of REM, can I consider that a sleep fail? And there are nights
where I get two hours of one or the other, and quite often two of each, even though I’m
sleeping six, six and a half hours. And this was not happening for me even two years ago,
so a lot of different things have worked to make it happen, but I don’t call it sleep age
because I don’t have your algorithmic purity. But I do realize I’m sleeping like a 20-yearold, which kind of makes me feel good.
Dan: If you’re getting an hour and a half of deep sleep and REM a night, that is very good,
almost better than a 20-year-old.
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Dave: Especially in less than eight hours. It’s unbelievable, but I do all of the stuff in my books,
and I think the stem cells, the whole-body stem cell makeover, I did an episode with
Marcella [Madera] about that. I think that getting stem cells in my brain really did give
me a younger brain, because my sleep quality shifted.
Dan: Yeah, you were saying that, I was listening to that podcast actually, that you think you
actually shifted your circadian rhythm a little bit, too.
Dave: Yeah, that’s really inconvenient. I woke up this morning at 6:30. It’s still kind of dark at
6:30, it’s horrible. I mean, I stay up late and I write my books, and I’m losing my writing
time between 11:00 p.m. and 2:00 a.m. is the sweet spot for really creativity for me, and
now I’m like, “Oh, I guess I could go to bed at 10:30.” Which it’s been an impossibility for
probably 40 years of my life to do that, and now it’s like, ah, I could go to sleep. And
then I actually sleep really well, and yeah, if I go to sleep by 11:30 I do get at least an
extra 20 minutes of deep sleep from doing that, and it’s pissing me off.
Dan: Interesting.
Dave: Yeah.
Dan: Yeah, I mean, I think what you’re hitting on here is a topic that I find fascinating. Based
on your circadian rhythm, there’s probably a better time in the day to do different
Dave: Oh yeah.
Dan: And that’s something we’re working towards in some of our algorithm work, is … and
this fluctuates. You’ve talked about it in some of your books with the different types of
animals for different types of sleepers.
Dave: Yeah, that’s Michael Breus, actually. Those aren’t my books, that’s The Power of When.
Dan: Oh, okay.
Dave: I quoted him earlier.
Dan: Oh, right, right, right.
Dave: Yeah, but that work, it’s totally real. There’s a good time of day for sex, there’s a good
time of day for board meetings, and it’s a big problem if your wife’s time of day for sex is
early morning and your time of day for sex is 10:00 at night. And you’re like, “Well,
maybe we have to meet in the middle somewhere. It’s time for that lunch meeting.”
ButDan: That’s an interesting thing, is what if you could say the best time that’s convenient for
the relationship?
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Dave: Well, he does that in his book. He explains it.
Dan: Oh, really.
Dave: It was mind-blowing stuff because you’re like, “Oh, and if you want to ask for a raise,
maybe you shouldn’t do it when your boss is completely like a curmudgeon because
they had to come into work at 8:00 A.M. and they’re not a morning person.” You’re like,
“Maybe we’ll just do it a little bit later.” If you’re a salesperson, this matters so much.
I’m super stoked on it, but tell me what you’ve learned. What are you learning in the lab
about this?
Dan: Yeah.
Dave: Because Michael did it as a clinician, you’re doing it as a university researcher. You’re
going to get different results.
Dan: Yeah. So, let me just tell you kind of the way that I think about this with time of day and
what sleep is actually doing. So, the theory I subscribe to and a lot of people in the
research do as well, for one of the main reasons, there’s many reasons, but one of the
main reasons why we sleep is something called the synaptic homeostasis hypothesis.
And so Giulio Tononi kind of coined this theory, and it’s basically that over the course of
the day, the activation of your neurons gradually increases. And I think that part of why
you have more creativity towards the night time is because you have an overall higher
neuro activation. Your neurons are kind of firing at a higher level, basically. You could
think about it like that.
Dan: And the main function of sleep, according to this theory, is that during deep sleep you
down regulate all those relevant connections that you made during the day such that
the relevant things to your survival rise to the top. So, you know, it used to be, you
know, don’t go to that part of the forest because the lions are over there. Now, it’s like,
what did so and so say about me at the office? Or something like that. And then that
happens in deep sleep, you down regulate. And then in REM, you replay all the relevant
things to your survival and then integrate that into your personality and your long-term
memory, basically.
Dave: That is pretty epic to understand, and what do I do with that? Even just sleep age™. Okay,
so someone figures, “I have an old sleep age, I have a young sleep age,” or they look at
the whole data set you just had there, what do you do with it?
Dan: So, this is the main thing that has also been at the front of our minds, is all these
devices, like Fitbit is like oh, you got so and so deep sleep. What do you do with that
information? There’s nothing that’s that actionable about that. And so we’re not just
trying to track, but we’re actually trying to enhance. And I think that’s really where the
field ought to go, so by more accurately measuring sleep, based on your sleep stage,
there’s ways of actually enhancing your, for example, deep sleep in real time while
you’re sleeping through sound or temperature stimulation.
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Dave: And that’s something that I’ve been using your app to do, which isDan: Yeah, so …
Dave: Which is kind of cool.
Dan: Yeah. So, there’s two components of sound that we can think about here. A really low
hanging fruit way to improve your sleep quality is to block out noise pollution.
Dave: Yeah.
Dan: So, this is something that, you know … and it’s actually a socioeconomic issue, too.
Dave: Oh yeah.
Dan: Where there’s some recent research on this that’s really kind of depressing a little bit.
But basically, urban environments that are louder and sometimes poorer, the people in
those environments often get worse sleep. And part of the reason for that is, you … and
this is something that was very surprising to me when I was doing this research. Sounds
wake up your brain throughout the night all the time without conscious awareness of it,
of this happening. So, when people come into our laboratory environment, we hook
them up to the best wearables, we connect them to polysomnography, and we work
with this fabulous professor at Penn State, his name is Orfeu Buxton, to conduct these
trials. And then we have the EEG data giving us truth.
Dan: While we’re looking at that data, we have a postdoc, Margeaux Schade, who actually,
her specialty is the understanding of how sleep impacts pain perception, and that’s
another whole thing we can talk about. But she’ll look at the brain waves and then
systematically administer sounds to people. And she’ll literally play hundreds of these
sounds to people throughout the night louder than how I’m speaking to you right now,
and people have absolutely no idea that the sounds were played, yet it’s disrupting their
sleeps, basically.
Dan: So, step one is mitigate that impact with what we call is an acoustic cushion. So, we
basically measure the sound in the room and then adaptively ramp up the sound in
order to mitigate the impact of noise pollution. So, that’s step one.
Dave: For me, in hotels I’ve really noticed a difference from just doing that with Sonic Sleep.
Because at home, the only noise pollution I had last night, I live on a small organic farm,
a woodpecker lands on our chimney. And they like to peck on the chimney because it
resonates, so they make a lot of noise to attract a mate. That’s why I woke up at 6:30
this morning. I just wish that woodpecker would find a mate and stop doing that, but
you know, okay, that’s not normal. In hotels, it’s elevators, it’s people in the hallway,
and it’s just all the machinery in hotels that I find I get worse sleep just because of that.
And when I turn on the acoustic cushion stuff, just on the phone next to my bed, in
airplane mode, I do sleep better.
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Dan: And there might be another process that comes to mind for why that also might be, is
there’s a really interesting effect in the sleep literature called the first night effect. And
basically, whenever someone goes to a new sleep environment, almost always they
naturally have a little worse sleep quality. It’s because your fight or flight response
system is naturally a little bit elevated when you’re in a new environment, and part of
what we’re doing with sound is that we’re building this association.
Dave: By the way, it’s ironic we have a siren in the background when we’re talking about noise
pollution. Anyway, keep going.
Dan: So, I’m kind of such a … I’ll self-inflict on my biohacking I think a little bit more than you,
and I actually recently just moved to a very noisy apartment in New York City to try to
demonstrate that I could actually resolve this problem.
Dave: Without $20 million, you’re not living in New York City in a quiet apartment. Sorry, it’s
just noisy everywhere.
Dan: Yes. So, I’ve actually tried to hack this in my own environment.
Dave: Is it working?
Dan: So, I have a kind of crazy setup. So, I have surround sound speakers connected around
my window, and then also by my bed. And so kind of the whole house has this sound
cushion to it.
Dave: Are you sleeping by yourself, I’m assuming?
Dan: Yeah. [crosstalk 00:27:36] Dave: Yeah, my sleep hacking takes a hit when I sleep with Lana, okay?
Dan: Yeah, so I’m recently single, so I can really dive into some of this stuff.
Dave: Yeah, it’s actually a gift because you sleep way better when you have that flexibility.
Dan: And the bed partner is a really other … so, I do sleep consultations with people, too, and
that’s another thing that I was surprised by, is [inaudible] and the bedroom partner are
oftentimes major contributors to poor sleep quality. And I have an article called Split
blankets, not beds, all about trying to mitigate that relationship.
Dave: Oh man, I love it. I’ll link to that on Twitter or something. Lana and I switched about four
years ago to split blankets.
Dan: Yeah.
Dave: It makes a big difference. And plus, I like way firmer than she does, and sleep surface I’m
sure is a variable. So, I oftentimes do the paleo style of sleeping where I’m sleeping on a
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one inch, hard [inaudible 00:28:29] mattress, otherwise I’m on a really nice bed. But if
we’re sharing the bed and we don’t have separate blankets, she’ll wake me up every
single night. And then you look at this, you’re married for a long time, decades and
decades, and you just get 10% less quality of sleep for decades. You know, you might get
Alzheimer’s from that. That seems kind of crappy because it’s not that expensive to buy
two blankets.
Dan: Exactly. And you know, this is actually kind of an American thing almost, to have one
blanket. If you go to other cultures, I think in Netherlands, for example, it’s much more
socially acceptable to not only have separate blankets, but sometimes even separate
Dave: Something like 43% of Americans in a recent big survey said that they would love to
sleep separately, but they kind of feel guilty about it, and the state that wanted that the
most was Texas. I don’t know why, but that was a cool fact of the day like 200 episodes
Dan: Yeah. I mean, the state-wide statistics on sleep are kind of interesting. For example,
Colorado I think is the state that sleeps the best.
Dave: It’s all the guns?
Dan: You can imagine why that might be.
Dave: It’s all the guns.
Dan: It’s halfDave: I have no idea why, I just … I grew up in New Mexico, we’re like right south from there,
so …
Dan: Uh huh. Well, I think the guns might not help with the fight or flight response.
Dave: Well, that was my joke, is you could go either way in that argument, so …
Dan: So, we kind of diverted again. But with the sounds, this is the really kind of sexy thing in
the literature that brought me back to this topic. So, I was actually making sleep
algorithms for your iPhone back in 2010. You know, the standard sleep with the phone
in bed with you kind of thing to measure your sleep.
Dave: Oh yeah, I had your app back in 2010.
Dan: It was called … no way. Really?
Dave: Sleep to Peak, right?
Dan: Oh, there was Sleep to Peak, and then there was also one called Proactive Sleep.
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Dave: Okay.
Dan: Sleep to Peak is still out. The reaction time aspect of Sleep to Peak is really cool for
measuring your circadian rhythms. I think you were interested in that.
Dave: Yeah, that was how we first met.
Dan: Yeah.
Dave: I was like, “Oh, this is a cool app. No one’s ever heard of this guy, I got to meet him.” But
that goes back like seven, eight years. I don’t know how long I’ve known you, but …
Dan: I made that with a neuroscientist from Canada, Mark [Therean 00:30:48]. And we’ve
actually validated that that task is just as sensitive to circadian rhythms and your sleep
need than something called the psychomotor vigilance task.
Dave: That was your PhD thesis, right?
Dan: Yeah, that’s what I focused on for my PhD, and we actually made artificial intelligence
models that simulated performance on those tasks with stuff with micro lapses in the
basal ganglia and stuff like this.
Dave: So, basically, if you don’t get enough sleep you are not good at paying attention,
noticing stuff.
Dan: Yeah.
Dave: And you proved it beyond belief. But you also, because we talked a lot about your
acoustic cushion stuff. But you got almost $1 million from the National Institutes of
Health a couple years ago, and from the NSF, to improve sleep detection and increase
deep sleep. And I want to know, given that we talked about sound, light, and
temperature variables, and these are big things from Headstrong, my book, but these
are what control your mitochondria as well. But was that part of that grant? Did you
spend that $1 million figuring out what light, sound, and temp do? Or was that other
Dan: Yeah. So, basically what happened was at a certain point with the sleep detection, I
realized that you couldn’t accurately detect sleep with just motion alone. And I actually
gave up on trying to do this for like two years, and then when the Apple Watch came
out, I knew that that was the time. And so that’s when we applied for all these grants,
and it was based also on this really sort of sexy finding in the literature that you can
actually prime different brain states with sound. So, first and foremost what our lab is
focused on is how to use sound to prime deep sleep. So, also when I was in grad school,
this kind of famous professor with 30,000 citations to his work was one of my grad
advisors. His name is Roger [Paraserman 00:32:43], and he was a pioneer in something I
think you’re very interested in, Dave, which is transcranial direct current stimulation.
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Dave: Oh yeah.
Dan: Basically, there’s things like headsets that you can wear, like Halo neuroscience, that
does some of these things.
Dave: Do you mean like this headset?
Dan: Oh, there you go. Yeah, so we were actually zapping people’s brains with low levels of
electricity in grad school, and they would let us do it to undergrads because it really
doesn’t have a high … it sounds a little sci-fi and out there, but basically the air force is
really interested in some of this research to try to make super soldiers. I think that’s
where a lot of the grant funding came from, and there was a lot of evidence to show
that you can improve mental performance with this. At the end of the day, the brain’s
connections are just a set of electrical circuits, right?
Dave: Yep.
Dan: And what they found is that they could get this similar effect with not just electricity,
but also through acoustic stimulation because the auditory cortex basically processes
that information, converts it into electricity, and you can actually prime these brain
states without zapping people, but actually with sound. And so that’s the main purpose
of our NIH grants, is if people get less deep sleep, can we actually use sound played at
just the right time, and this is the hard part, the right volume, in order to get the brain
to entrain to it without pushing the person to an arousal? And so we understand the
science behind that basically better than everyone else, I think, and we’re the first lab to
show that we can actually get this deep sleep stimulation effect on something as easy to
wear as an Apple Watch or an Oura Ring.
Dan: So, there’s other devices out there that already do this on a headset form factor, like
you mentioned the Philips, and there’s another one, Dream. But we’re the first ones to
show that we can do it with just measuring heart rate and motion on Fitbit or Apple
Watch, Oura. Which we think is pretty innovative, and we show we can increase slow
wave sleep and also next day cognitive performance in a paper that we just submitted
to The Journal of Sleep.
Dave: Okay, this is groundbreaking stuff, okay? Going back 10 years, I’m sleeping with this
incredibly sexy headset on, and now you’re basically saying with the microphone on a
common phone, you can get this.
Dan: So, there’s a microphone that gets it to some degree, and then if you have an Apple
Watch, Oura Ring, FitbitDave: Oh, you can have the heart rate from the ring.
Dan: You really need the heart rate to nail the effect. There’s some benefits still with just the
phone by your bedside. And this whole sleep with your phone thing is something I left
way in the past, I am not a proponent of that at all.
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Dave: Of sleeping with it?
Dan: A lot of people sleep with their phone in bed with them. To someDave: But if it’s on airplane mode and it’s near your bed to collect sound, that seems okay, or
Dan: No, yeah, that’s fine.
Dave: Okay, that’s what I do.
Dan: I think that this, and this is something that I’ve personally comes to terms with recently,
is my phone addiction. And I think that this is one of the main reasons why our
generation is having some sleep issues, especially with sleep quality.
Dave: It’s a major thing. Ariana Huffington, she is all about leave it outside your room or you’ll
die, and is a very big sleep proponent, and I’m always torn. The data for me, it says, “You
did a good job,” but my phone is exceptionally dim. I have a color filter turned on, and I
don’t look at the phone. So, for me it’s working, and then I get progressive wake up
alarms, which are also really nice, where it wakes you up slowly at the top of a sleep
cycle. That seems pretty worth it, but you’re right. If you’re addicted to your phone, get
the addictive stuff away.
Dan: So, this is why it’s so interesting to me, is it’s very … I don’t like giving generic feedback
sometimes because I think it’s very individualistic. Frankly, most people sleep with their
phone by their bedside, so first and foremost, we try to measure your sleep using that
phone by bedside form factor and give you meaningful feedback. And also, this is a big
thing that I think almost always helps people. Wake up very gradually. That’s the right
way to wake up.
Dave: That saved my life. It changed everything, yes.
Dan: And so we try to do that, because since we understand how sound impacts your
arousability, and there’s also sleep spindles, and there’s some cool science on a lot of
this stuff. If you want to get deep into some of that, I’d be happy to do so. But so we
actually start a sound to wake you up gradually. It’s almost imperceptible, and then it
ramps up over a 10 minute period in Sonic.
Dave: Yeah, I use it. I feel so much better all day.
Dan: Oh, you do.
Dave: Yeah.
Dan: Okay, cool.
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Dave: And the difference … try having a four-year-old run in screaming, and your whole day is
wrecked. I mean, seriously, that’s a big thing for how I perform the way I do, is how I
wake up. So, yeah, that’s beautiful and I love that it’s built in.
Dan: And part of this also is to … there’s a thing in sleep science called the cortisol awakening
response. Are you familiar with this?
Dave: Explain it for listeners. I am, yeah.
Dan: So, basically you actually want a spike in cortisol when you wake up in the morning. It’s
Dave: Yeah, it’s important.
Dan: It’s very healthy, and I think one of the reasons why older people often sleep work is
their circadian rhythm kind of flattens out. And also, if you have stress throughout the
day, like chronic stress, you actually respond by this cortisol awakening response
Dave: By the way, if I’m jet lagged, I’ll take five milligrams of bioidentical cortisol the second I
wake up to induce that response.
Dan: Oh, interesting.
Dave: When I need it. And I’m telling you, if you don’t want to get sick when you travel, here I
am with a super scratchy voice because I just had a lot of dry air. But it’s completely
changed things. It’s an old school 1950s hack for jet lag. But you need that, and you also
need an acid spike in the morning. So, this wake up and drink some sort of alkaline
water, it’s BS, but lemon juice or lime juice is great because it actually provides acid. And
eventually, it’s metabolized to be alkaline later in the day, but you do get the acid spike
in the morning.
Dave: So, get some cortisol, get some acid, the things that are supposed to be bad, not when
you wake up, but you don’t want to slam it on, which is what happens when the two—
year-old or the fire engine honking or something wakes you up. A startle thing is you
dump all the cortisol, and if you get a normal cortisol ramp that starts right before you
wake up, and I think with your app, that 10 minute slow wake up allows cortisol to come
on slowly. Is that accurate? Is that happening?
Dan: I mean, I haven’t run that study yet to unequivocally say that.
Dave: Oh, come on, man. Do it.
Dan: But I mean, it’s just definitely better. Part of the other reason why I’m 100% sure that
the gradual wake up is the right move also, is that when you did have poor sleep quality,
which can happen sometimes, you’ll get that extra couple minutes of sleep, which I
know is going to be, is regenerative.
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Dave: My buddy, Maneesh Sethi, started Pavlok, which is … and I made a very tiny investment
in Pavlok, because I couldn’t not do it because it was funny. But he has this wristband
that works really well for breaking or forming new habits, especially stopping smoking.
And it runs a little electric current that shocks you, so our bodies are so averse to
negative stimulus. Then, he was like, “Well, let’s use that. Every time you smoke, you
actually push a button and it shocks you and your body is just like, I just don’t want
cigarettes anymore. I don’t know why.” But he yells this thing about, “Get out of bed
right away. Jump out of bed in the morning.” And so you can set it up to shock you out
of bed and train yourself to get that really basically sharp cortisol spike. I’m assuming
that’s what it does, but I don’t know that I would want that.
Dave: I really value that 10-minute slow wake up where you can finish your dream and
remember it and all that. Any thoughts on pros or cons versus just natural, or training
yourself to hop out of bed?
Dan: Yeah. I mean, so there’s healthy stress and there’s unhealthy stress, right? I don’t think
you necessarily want to stress the body in a way that’s causing you a lot of discomfort
per se.
Dave: It’s only a little. It’s not like you’re twitching for hours, it’s like a little rubber band
snapping your wrist.
Dan: No, I’m fascinated. But I mean, as a biohacker, I’ve definitely looked into the Pavlok. I
was actually looking at their patent the other day for some reason. It is an interesting
thing, and this also sort of brings me into a topic that is a little early, but I can talk about
it a little bit. Is this finding in the sleep literature that through a similar kind of
associative process, you could potentially prime your subconscious mind to basically
have memories for targeted things that you want to control through the process of
sleep. And this new research called target memory reactivation, have you looked into
this at all?
Dave: No.
Dan: So, there’s these cool studies. It’s still a little early and it’s not 100% sure that it’s … you
know, there’s some evidence for this. I’m not going to say that it’s 100% yet, and we’re
trying to explore it. But if you do a task during the day such as trying to remember all 50
states or any kind of memory task, while you’re smelling something, for example, and
then you replay that smell while someone is in REM sleep, it’s a similar kind of thing to
what the Pavlok is trying to do a little bit, with the Pavlovian response. Basically, the
smell primes when you got the right answers for the task, for example, and you reencode that information more so, and then you do better in the task the next day with
the cue.
Dave: That is super cool. So, we need a little smell generator in our bedrooms.
Dan: But you can also do it with sound, so that’s something that we don’t have yet, but we’re
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Dave: Now, I’m really interested in that, so maybe you play that sound when you’re doing
homework or learning a language. There’s probably all kinds of cool stuff. One of the
techniques that I’ve used, when I do certain types of neurofeedback where you’re
getting yourself into these very advanced meditative states, like the 40 Years of Zen
style stuff, recording the sound of the neurofeedback session, and then playing that
back before bed to cue those same mental states, especially when I’m doing very deep
states work. I can’t say that I have data that it works, but it feels good. Maybe that’s part
of the same thing.
Dan: No, and I mean, the stuff with alpha and really understanding alpha is something that is
very fascinating. I think that’s the brain state that you’re looking at when you’re doing
Dave: Oh, no, at 40 Years of Zen, we are looking at the new research on Zen meditation, is all
about gamma.
Dan: Oh, okay.
Dave: How it mixes with alpha, and there’s even some delta and some theta depending on
what areas of the brain. So, but alpha, for the reset process we do there is important,
but it goes deeper than alpha.
Dan: Okay, interesting.
Dave: I don’t want to go that deep on that stuff now, because it’s less sleep based. You’ve got
sound I think pretty much nailed into this heart rate stuff, but the work you’re doing
also has light and temperature. Let’s talk about your recommendations around light for
improving sleep, because that’s a big part of Headstrong and a big part of what I do.
Dan: Yeah. I mean, so I think you nailed it with the red light at night. You know, it just makes
Dave: I have one of my portfolio companies that I started, the True Dark company with the
glasses, yeah. We’re into that.
Dan: Yeah, I mean, it just makes sense and there’s recent research that there’s actually these
basal ganglia cells in your eyes that are particularly sensitive to red light.
Dave: Yep.
Dan: And it actually, they used to think that the red light makes it so light doesn’t activate the
Dave: Yep.
Dan: But they’re actually showing that the red light actually has a … it actually makes you
tireder. And they think that that has to do with … the explanation from a theoretical
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perspective, which is usually how I try to understand things, is that when you … a sunset
that we were exposed to for thousands and, you know, tens of thousands of years,
actually primes this response in us to fall asleep, and it just so happens that sunset is
Dave: All right.
Dan: So, it kind of makes sense. And they’ve done these studies in mice and stuff, you have to
dissect the eyes and whatnot.
Dave: It doesn’t just make sense. I’m laughing that you said that because there’s a patent for
True Dark, and my name is on it, which is why I really dug into this stuff. It turns out that
the angle of the light and the color coming into the eye matters, so we just launched last
week something called the True Dark Sunsets. And what we did is, we used the layer of
filters which blocks all of the colors that are bad at the top of your vision where the light
comes in in the middle of the day. But we have less of that filtering at the bottom of it
so you can still look down and see what’s going around. So, it’s literally like a sunset.
Dan: Awesome.
Dave: It’s dark, at least your brain thinks it’s dark up, and lighter at the bottom so you can still
get stuff done, and they still block all the melatonin and all. But the idea is you can see a
little bit better and people can still see your eyes, and those definitelyDan: Huh, oh that’s fascinating.
Dave: Plus, they look a little bit less like someone from X-Men. You know, they’re aviator style.
But it’sDan: I want the Cyclopes [crosstalk 00:46:56].
Dave: I know, I kind of like that, too. But it’s funny, you said sunset, I’m like, “Yes, exactly
right.” Because it sends a signal to the basal ganglia, and I find that to be fascinating that
it may not be just the color of the light, but the angle that the light comes into the eye
as an important variable.
Dan: Hm, I didn’t know that intricacy of it. Interesting. I think there is a lot to be said for light,
and one of my ambitions here is to try to create these, we call them my sleep habitats,
but theoretically, you have an ideal light exposure that entrenches your circadian
rhythm. And we’re actually trying to work with cognitive behavioral therapists to make a
software to try to add some of these light interventions to improve something. I’m not a
medical doctor and this is still far out, but theoretically you can improve therapy with
some of these light exposure and deep sleep stimulation interventions.
Dan: So, light kind of seems simple. You know, you want red light at night and you want blue
light in the morning, basically, and you want to get at least 30 minutes of sunlight before
12:00 noon. But there’s nuances in this, and I didn’t even know about the angle thing,
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but I know a lot about the color spectrum. And so theoretically, based on your unique
circadian rhythm, there’s an optimum color in your environment, and we’re trying to
integrate with various devices like LifeX Bulbs and Philips Hue to try to make this aspect
of the technology.
Dave: Okay, that’s super cool. But basically, red light is a big thing, avoiding blue light. Okay.
One of the things that I think is fascinating is you didn’t just study psychology and
cognitive side of things, but you also looked at A.I. as part of your research, and you talk
about Sonic Sleep A.I. and what is the role of artificial intelligence in making sleep more
regenerative in the way you’re looking at it?
Dan: Yeah, so I mean this is what gets into all the personalized feedback that we’re providing.
So, when we know people’s sleep quality and when they went to bed and when they
woke up, we can start giving people personalized suggestions. And the way that I like to
look at it is there is always one thing that anyone can do that’s maybe a relatively easy
thing that they can do to improve their sleep quality. And that’s different for different
people. If you want to optimize, maybe it’s having a more strict bedtime or maybe
taking a power nap. If you have insomnia, it could be the cognitive behavioral therapy
things. And so what we’re trying to do is detect uniquely what’s going on with the
person with these wearables, and then create this sort of A.I. assistant on top that gives
you that relevant feedback, so when you wake up in the morning you don’t say, “Oh, my
device said I got X amount of sleep.” You get that, which is definitely useful, but it also
says, “Look, here’s what you can do tonight to improve your sleep quality the next day.”
Dave: That’s cool. And I’ve got one more question for you, Dan. I used to ask people the
question, I know you listen to the show, the question that formed the basis of Game
Changers. And I feel like with a sample size of almost 600 people now, we understand
the smarter, faster, happier thing. And for people listening, if you haven’t read Game
Changers, seriously it’s 500 hours of podcast boiled down to the most important stuff.
Read it. So, I’m not asking that question anymore. The new question is more of an antiaging question and it comes down to, how long do you want to live?
Dan: I mean, so my thing is, I don’t want to live in an encumbered state.
Dave: Nobody does except if you ask people who are in encumbered states if they want to die,
the vast majority of them say, “Not yet.” So …
Dan: That is true. There’s very interesting research on quadriplegic people related to that
very question. I mean, I’m happy with 120. My grandpa lived to 102, and he’s distilled
some of the secrets to longevity to me, which believe it or not was eat cheese,
chocolate, and wine. Which is kind of a little anecdote, but if I had my wits about me,
and towards the end of his life he suffered from dementia, and that’s probably what
inspired me in this space. You know, I wouldn’t want to be in that situation. But if I could
be 120 and still have my wits about me, I would be more than happy.
Dave: All right, I love it. 120. What if you had your wits about you entirely? Not 121?
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Dan: I guess the more the better, I don’t know. I’m a little bit … I guess there’s a darker side
to me that’s like, I think after a while I might just be done with all of this.
Dave: I say my number is at least 180. The real answer is, I would like to die at a time and by a
method of my choosing.
Dan: Interesting.
Dave: If I’m done, I’m done. No problem. No harm, no foul. But until then, I’d like to feel really
good and do a lot of good work and give back, and you know, discover things.
Dan: I mean, that’s the thing. To die in a prolonged state and having that burden on your
family, myDave: No, once you’re born, you’re dying in a prolonged state. That is the human condition
right now, until weDan: Well, I guess we’re always dying.
Dave: Until we fix it, that’s the human condition.
Dan: Good point. But to be able to do it without putting a large burden on your family, similar
to what you’re saying.
Dave: Yeah. Or society, right?
Dan: Or society.
Dave: But let’s just assume that that picture of being old, I know people who are in their 90s
who are dating people decades younger than them who are moving around and
functional. Eric Kandel, who’s been on the show, Nobel Prize winner, he’s 94, and he has
a lab in New York City looking at neuroplasticity, and he’s still working and loves his life.
I’m like okay, if that’s what it’s like, does your math change?
Dan: I guess I could go 150.
Dave: Ah, there we go. All right, we got you up, all right. Now you’re at least in the minor
leagues. I’m just kidding. But it’s interesting because all of us have this preconceived
notion that being old means being a burden, and in my experience, I have several
friends 70s, 80s, 90s, and those are some of my most valued friendships. Talk about
wisdom, right? So, if when you’re older you have wisdom and all the experience and
knowledge, and you’ve seen things that younger people haven’t seen, and you’re
comfortable and you’re happy and you’re giving back, and you’re not a burden, you’re
actually the village elder. We need more of that, we need a lot more of that.
Dan: That is interesting. With your whole live to 180 thing, if you’re creating this society of
wisdom, you could see that would have a huge positive effect.
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Dave: It is exceptionally difficult to be an asshole for 180 years. You have to evolve, and I
know, because I used to be a really big jerk when I was younger. I didn’t even know what
I was doing. I mean, I had brain inflammation. I was a total jerk, and I like to think I
mellowed that out a little bit. And I know by the time I’m older than this, I’ll probably
have done some more pattern recognition on myself and on the world, and it’ll just
make me better at improving myself and better at helping the people who want my
help, and great. So, I want the world to start thinking of, wow, you’re 90, not you’re
helpless, but tell me what it was like. I asked my grandmother this, “Tell me what it was
like when you were measuring neutrinos from the first reactor ever,” because she was a
nuclear engineer. And she said, “Yeah, I remember that.” And you’re like, “This is
amazing.” And so I want more of that.
Dave: And plus, Dan, if we’re going to live that long, you’re probably not going to be putting
micro plastic in the ocean. We’re going to solve those problems, because I can’t mess up
the sand box because I’m going to be here for a long time. So, we have to be better
stewards of the world.
Dan: Yeah. Actually, I never thought about the … when you say you’re going to live to 180
years old, it actually makes you think more long-term and make probably better
decisions in the shorter term, too. Even if it’s not actually something that you’re actually
going to maybe do, and I would love to see you do itDave: Well, that means you have to do it, too, if you want to see it. See, that’s the hook.
Dan: All right, 180, that’s it.
Dave: All right, man. It’s a bet. We’ll race.
Dan: Okay.
Dave: Cool.
Dan: I got some time on you, so …
Dave: Beautiful. That means that’s a big advantage, because it’s getting better every year in
terms of what we can do about it. All right, if you guys liked today’s episode including
that dark ending about death, well, check out SonicSleepCoach.com, which is Dan’s
website. It’s an app that I do use and an app that I appreciate, and I’m really looking
forward to hearing what you guys think if you decide to check it out.
Dave: Because adding that acoustic cushion is one of the things, when I slept that three and a
half hours, I guarantee you there’s Sonic Sleep going on because otherwise in a hotel
room with all the other garbage going on that same day, I don’t know how I would’ve
slept as well as I did without doing everything in my power to sleep well. And I took
Bulletproof Sleep Mode, I wore the new Sunset glasses from True Dark, and man, I
mean, I did breathing exercises. I did everything I could think of. But certainly, Sonic
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Sleep is a part of what allowed me to achieve that, which is frankly an unusual result
even for me, but I was pretty stoked on it. Have a wonderful day.